Better Travel Photography for Beginners
We all want to improve the look of our Instagram and travel photos but we’re not professional photographers! With this beginner’s guide to improving your photography, I will share everything I have learned in the last 18 months of teaching myself photography. Hours spent online, watching tutorials and researching have been compiled into this guide (and the 3 part video series on my YouTube channel you can access here).
Just like you, I am not a professional or trained photographer but in just over 18 months I’ve gone from taking crappy cell phone pics to getting features on instagram and up to 1,200 likes on my travel photos. I also don’t know fancy terms or technical lingo so this is just my personal breakdown of a few small things you can do to immediately improve your social feeds and travel memories!
COMPOSITION aka RULE OF THIRDS
So what is composition and the rule of thirds - without any technical lingo it means where stuff is in in your picture. Keep in mind when 'composing' your photo – you’ve got a left side, a right side, the top, the bottom, and a middle. The general rule is that your subject should be on the left or the right side (this helps a lot when you’re starting out; all rules are meant to be broken but it has to be done in the right way).
Have you ever stood somewhere and thought this scene looks incredible! But then when you take a photo, it simply doesn’t do it justice? Well composition can really help with that. Deciding what to include in your frame can dramatically change the end result. Basically, that means taking a photo where you're standing, just because the view is nice, won't give you the best result! The camera can’t quite capture everything you're seeing. Move around, try different angles, crouch down, stand on a bench, and you’ll quickly see how different of a story the images start to tell.
I’ve picked a rather bland spot to demonstrate this, because I want to show you that you don’t need epic scenery to have composition work for you. So here we have a rather dull view and a bench but very different moments captured using the rule of 3rds.
These photos were all taken at the same spot but they tell very different stories and all I did was move around a bit and play with the various elements I have. I simply changed what I used and where I put it in my frame.
A couple of years ago when I started taking cell phone photos, composition was the first thing I started playing around with and it was the reason I fell in love with photography.
Leading Lines are used to direct the viewers eyes to where you want them to go, or the subject of your image. They can be found anywhere from patterns on the floor to tiles to buildings. Here you can see how I’ve used the lines on the dock to direct the eyes towards the subject. And in the second shot you can see that even the clouds are almost acting as leading lines, directing the eye toward the subject. But like I said lines can be found anywhere so start experimenting with this.
PRO TIP! If you want to know if you’ve done this successfully, pick a point next to the image and unfocus your eyes. If you can still pin point the subject you’ve done it right. Don’t worry this method takes a little bit of practice to get the hang of.
And when we combine this with composition we might get an end result that looks something like this…
Part of travel photography means you are in different locations with different climates so let your creativity take advantage of that! If you find yourself in a cabin amongst snow-capped mountains, you have great details like pine cones, fireplaces, fuzzy robes, mugs of hot chocolate that all add to the atmosphere. On the contrary if you're on an island there are sunglasses, flip flops, coconuts, palm fawns, and boats to capture the essence of the place.
there are lots of options on how you can use these in creating something unique. Now these details don’t have to be the subject of your image but they help create the feeling – like in this example, where all I did was wrap a towel around my head for that early morning, hotel room breakfast in bed vibe.
PRO TIP! Make sure to pack some things that help create the atmosphere like wintery tones if you're headed to the mountains, or bright, vibrant and flowy items for a beach.
We want to have you in the landscape, showing off the beautiful destination you're in, which gives your image great perspective. But always keep in mind that you want to show off the landscape as well! Then keeping in mind your leading lines and composition you can create a story within your capture - is it a moment of serenity or of adventure?
PRO TIP! Make sure you shoot wide enough to be able to crop in and straighten the image when processing, in order not to lose any part of the subject or background you didn’t want to cut out.
I know it sounds terrifying starting to shoot in Manual mode when you’re not a professional photographer, but I promise it’s a lot of fun and not that scary at all. With my non-technical breakdown of the main aspects, you’ll be taking manual photos in no time.
I have no clue what that stands for and that’s not really important. Simply put you need a low ISO number during the day and a higher number at night when there isn’t a lot of light. All cameras have a sensor and this means how sensitive it is to light.
This basically means how much light you’re letting in to your lens. A lower number (also referred to as fstop) means you get more of that great background blur, but a higher aperture such as 9 - 11 lets you shoot with a lot of light and create cool stuff like sun stars.
This is exactly what it sounds like, how fast your shutter does stuff. Remember aperture determines the size of the hole, whereas shutter speed determines how long that hole stays open for. So when there is a lot of light like during the day, you want to have a high shutter speed, meaning you're letting less light in to your sensor. And for night shots when you want to let as much light in as possible your shutter speed will need to be very slow.
Once you start playing with these basics you'll see when you need to adjust the ISO with a low shutterspeed and if you are shooting during the day you might need to increase your shutterspeed. And don’t be afraid to take the terrible photos that end up being overexposed or too dark - that’s the best way to learn what needs to be adjusted!
I hope these tips will help you in improving your travel photography skills and get more comfortable as a beginner. I have been there so I know how daunting it can all seem! But travel photography is one of the most fun things we can do to capture how beautiful our world is and keep those memories. Have fun taking those photos and keep adventuring!